DRAPER — A familiar face will take over the Salt Lake County mayor's office.
Salt Lake County Democrats elected Jenny Wilson to replace Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, who resigned as mayor after being elected to Congress last November. Wilson will fill the remaining two years of McAdams' term and will have to run for election in 2020 to retain the seat.
A total of 760 (of 1,107) Salt Lake County Democratic Party Central Committee members participated in the special election at Corner Canyon High School. Wilson defeated Shireen Ghorbani on the second round of voting with 55 percent of the vote. Salt Lake County Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw and Stone Fonua were eliminated on the first ballot.
Wilson, the first Democratic woman to hold the county mayor position, will be sworn in next Tuesday. She has served on the County Council for a decade. She ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate last November. Wilson said she intends run for a full term as mayor in 2020.
"I feel great. I feel ready to go. This has been a great journey," Wilson said after the election.
Her first order of business as mayor, she said, will be at the state Capitol next week as the Utah Legislature goes into session to ensure lawmakers don't repeal the Medicaid expansion initiative voters approved in November.
"I believe strongly we have to preserve Medicaid. That was something the voters, especially in this county, said they wanted," she said. "It's the right thing to do, it's the cost-effective thing to do, it's the humane thing to do."
McAdams congratulated Wilson on her victory.
"I worked closely with her as a councilwoman and know her to be a good listener and a leader," he said. "I’m confident that the job of maintaining a balanced budget, strong bond rating and efficient services for county residents is in good hands."
Gov. Gary Herbert said in a tweet that he hopes that "together we can help Salt Lake County continue to succeed and address the challenges that come with growth."
Wilson, whose father Ted Wilson served as Salt Lake City mayor for nine years in the mid-'70s and '80s, said her experience on the council will serve her well in her new role.
"It has given me an opportunity to engage in the issues and to listen to my constituents," she said, listing air quality, homelessness and affordable housing as key issues.
Wilson said she can build on the successes for former Democratic mayors Peter Corroon and McAdams. "But to build on those successes we need someone who is in the driver's seat on policy and someone who has been there," she said.
Salt Lake County has emerged as a stronger blue area in a sea of red the past year.
"We have to spend our political capital wisely. We have a lot of political capital this year. We received it from your work," she told Salt Lake County Democrats. "We've got to have an advocate for us who knows this community."
Wilson's move to mayor opens a seat on the County Council that Democrats will fill in the next month.
Ghorbani, who lost her bid for Congress last November, said will stay involved in politics but not as a council candidate.
"It's not a good fit for my life," said Ghorbani, an associate director in the facilities department at the University of Utah.
Ghorbani didn't seek endorsements during her mayoral campaign, and unlike the other candidates who brought large entourages to the stage Saturday, she delivered her candidate speech alone.
"This is between you and me," she told voters.
Ghorbani downplayed the need for political experience, noting neither Corroon nor McAdams has previously worked in county government.
"We need a mayor who will work on the inclusive growth, be aggressive about sustainability and provide a social safety net that works for everyone," she said.
"How are we going to add half a million people to this county by 2050 without planning carefully?" Ghorbani said. "We have to be funding for affordable housing in all areas of the county. … We have to be fighting for equal access to education."12 comments on this story
Bradshaw, who has served on the County Council since 2010, said he talked to many residents about issues facing the county such as air quality, open space access and affordable housing.
"I have to admit I'm a bit of a policy geek," he said in his election speech. "When I see a problem in our community, I am willing to come up with the right policies and, more importantly, a collaborative action plan to fix it."
McAdams said the new mayor would have an approach to leadership that differs from his, but is just as important.